I didn’t get crushes on boys when my friends did. I didn’t understand the appeal of playing spin-the-bottle at lunchtime. Boys were still yucky. I didn’t understand, either, why my friends read Seventeen, because we were twelve.
Desperate to fit in, I got a boyfriend. He wasn’t a nice person. He told me that he had read that the average age of onset of sexual activity was sixteen, so if we were still “together” – as much as two children who only talk on the phone and had only met face-to-face once, at the mall, could be described as “together” – by sixteen, we were having sex, full stop. I knew a lot could change between twelve and sixteen, but I truly couldn’t see myself wanting to have sex by then, either.
Nevertheless, sixteen implanted itself in my brain as the Magic Number. I knew that everyone developed at different rates, and that there was such a thing as a Late Bloomer. One of my friends didn’t get her period until high school and we knew that was one of many kinds of normal. But sixteen for sex was a deadline I firmly set for myself. I read an article about Sandra Bullock and how she didn’t become sexually active until she was 19 (“Speedactress got off to a slow start”, said the headline) and I thought “Wow, that’s really old.”
Sixteen crept up on me. I had had a few boyfriends in the intervening years, none of them relationships that could be deemed healthy, not even by awkward-teenage-fumbling standards, but those are stories for another time. We had sloppy makeouts and played around with my kinks and theirs. I let someone drink my blood once. But I had gotten really adept at stopping the proceedings before Sex started to happen. I couldn’t handle being touched in those ways, or the thought of being nude with another person, or the thought of being entered by another person. But I wasn’t sixteen yet. I still had time to prepare myself for all those things.
I wasn’t sixteen yet, but then suddenly I was. I panicked. I got on birth control. The rumor around the schoolyard was that getting on The Pill turned a girl into an insatiable sexual beast. I popped pills diligently and waited for that beast to rear its head. Nothing happened.
Nothing continued to happen. My boyfriend got frustrated. I found evidence that he was sleeping with other girls, but I found ways to rationalize it. I took his flimsy excuses at face value. I bought into the folk wisdom that men have to get it from somewhere. I was hurt by his infidelity, but also slightly relieved.
My deadline came and went. I turned 17, then 18. I had let myself down. If it had been a class, I would have failed. If it were a job, I would’ve been fired. I watched my friends’ sexcapades with envy now, rather than detached curiosity. I thought I could force myself to do anything. I wanted to believe in mind-over-matter.
I bought a vibrator. I used it every night. It felt brutish and painful and foreign. It left me sore and frustrated unable to sleep. I started to think my friends, who swore up and down that a regular regimen of masturbation, like taking The Pill, would kick-start my sex drive, might be full of shit.
Then my boyfriend moved out of state, and the pressure was off. I went to college. I busied myself in academics and activism. I became a safe-sex educator. I stopped worrying about whether or not sex might happen to me. I still saw my sex therapist, but we talking about other things.
At last, I found the asexual community by mistake. At the time, it was still just AVEN. I was googling something else entirely and an AVEN thread popped up. There was no question that this thing they described, asexuality, was me. I cried for hours, not wanting to believe it. I wasn’t asexual. I was just a twenty-two-year-old Late Bloomer, waiting for The Right Person to come along. But the more I engaged in intellectual discussions about the nature of sexual attraction, I realized it was something that never existed for me.
Around the same time, I told a friend I was in love with him, but that I wouldn’t be able to have sex with him. He was fine with this. We’re married now. I no longer hold myself to the Someday fallacy and I know sexuality isn’t a one-size-fits-all, linear narrative based on inevitabilities and rites of passage.
I’m still not completely okay with being asexual. I still experience some serious dysphoria relating to my sexual aversion and I still get angry with myself that I couldn’t just bite the bullet and force myself to have sex. But at least I have a label for myself, an identity I can call my own, and most importantly, someone in my life with whom I can be (non-sexually) intimate on my own terms.